Yep it’s good. When we’re in prison, there’s not much you can do, but this program lets the world see what you’re doing, so that we’re not forgotten. It passes the time, keeps me connected to our culture, and the way to stay connected is through our art and the stories behind them.
Robby Wirramanda, Wergaia/Wotjobaluk 2016
The Torch provides support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria through art, cultural and arts vocational programs.
By embracing program participants as artists rather than offenders, The Torch provides an avenue to change.
Indigenous Australians make up around 2% of the Australian population but represent 28% of the national prison population.
Indigenous men are 15 times more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous men and Indigenous women are 21 times more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous women.
The Torch has been delivering the Statewide Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community Program (SIAPC) since 2011. The SIAPC Program is set within the context of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement and its focus is on the role of culture and cultural identity in the rehabilitative process of Indigenous prisoners.
The Torch employs Indigenous Arts Officers to deliver the Program to Indigenous men and women in Victorian prisons and to support participants who are transitioning back into the community.
Our program aims to reduce the rate of reoffending by encouraging participants to explore identity and culture through art, develop confidence and define new pathways for themselves upon release from prison.
In 2012 The Torch commissioned an Evaluation of the Statewide Indigenous Arts Officer in Prisons and Community Program. Interviews with Indigenous prisoners and former prisoners participating in the program identified four key challenges faced by program participants:
- systemic trust and anger issues
- experiences of disconnection from their cultural identity
- estrangement from family and community
- economic insecurity after being released from prison
Those interviewed saw that The Torch program had been effective in responding to these challenges by engendering:
- an increased sense of well-being and confidence
- new levels of trust that many of the artists had not experienced before
- opportunities for cultural reconnection
- pre-release skills and exploration of post-release career opportunities
- improved participation in other prison programs
- increased awareness of arts and culture among prison staff and the wider community
- a new level of support with its inside/outside approach
- better relationships with family and the wider community
Of those who were interviewed through the evaluation, every respondent, without exception, expressed the complementary value of the program, and the need for the Statewide Indigenous Arts Officer in Prisons and Community program to be expanded, in order to meet strong demand. They wanted more contact, more information, more resources and more materials.
In 2017 The Torch worked with 170 offenders in prisons across Victoria and 70 ex-offenders in the community.
The Torch’s Confined 10 exhibition in 2019 showcased 227 artworks from 213 artists at the Carlisle Street Art Space, St. Kilda Town Hall.
The Torch Statewide Indigenous Arts In Prison and Community Program is funded by a mix of government and philanthropic sources.